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Key Objective: 7.6 Agricultural runoff and subsurface drainage

The 2015 iCAP, chapter 7, objective 6 is "Reduce nitrates in agricultural runoff and subsurface drainage by 50% from the FY15 baseline by FY22." 

Associated Metric

No metric specified for this objective


Fertilizer applications used to produce corn have profound environmental impacts that are often not fully recognized.  In addition to direct greenhouse gas emissions during the synthesis and transportation of these products, nitrogen applications also lead to increased nitrate concentrations in agricultural runoff and subsurface drainage.  Most farm fields in Illinois have underground drainage tile that intercepts subsurface drainage and quickly transports this drainage into surface waters that ultimately drain to the Mississippi River.  Draining the corn belt via the Mississippi creates a “Dead Zone” each spring in the Gulf of Mexico that is greater than 5,000 square miles in extent.  Further, under anaerobic conditions, nitrate can be reduced to nitrogen gas and nitrous oxide (a powerful greenhouse gas).  Up to 75% of the world’s nitrous oxide emitted into the atmosphere is believed to be due to agricultural nitrogen fertilization.  By FY20, the campus could substantially reduce our contribution to this problem, and serve as a model for agricultural operations in the Mississippi watershed.  The strategy may require both changes to the timing and extent of fertilizer applications and the installation of equipment to treat subsurface tile drainage.

Project History